The 2022-23 regular season went about as well as the Sacramento Kings could’ve hoped, as they won 48 games to earn the 3-seed in the West, saw De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis put up career-best seasons together as All-Stars, and got positive contributions from youngsters and veterans alike around them.
The dream season came to an end in the first round, where their high-octane offense struggled to find its jump-shooting rhythm and they ultimately fell in seven games to the Golden State Warriors. Despite ending on a bitter note, the Kings still have plenty of optimism coming into the 2023-24 season and, while they had the money to make a splashy move this summer, they chose instead to be patient with their group and mostly run it back for another year as they take the long view coming off their best season in two decades. While understandable, we’ll have to see if they can get enough internal improvement to take any tangible steps forward as a team, particularly with others around them in the West expected to have much better regular seasons than last year.
Here we’ll grade out their summer of moves in the Draft, free agency and contract extensions, and on the trade market.
Using the No. 24 pick to dump Richaun Holmes’ salary on the Mavs made it seem as though there was a bigger move coming down the line for Sacramento, but they never did. As a result, the Draft didn’t yield a lot, as they took Colby Jones out of Xavier with the 34th pick (in another trade to move up from 38 with Boston) and later Jalen Slawson who is on a two-way. Moving Holmes is understandable as his skillset was redundant with Sabonis and he did not provide the defense they needed out of a backup center which relegated him to spot minutes, but they also didn’t get anything back (or use the space created for a major addition later) and didn’t use Draft night to bolster their roster in a particularly meaningful way, which leads to a middling grade.
Free Agency/Contract Extensions: B+
Giving Sabonis a max extension this summer was always going to happen and, while there’s some sticker shock at a $217 million deal, that’s the going rate for a guy who is a walking 20/10 on strong efficiency coming off of his third All-Star season. The real question was whether the Kings would use up some of their cap space before that signing to shake things up at all and go for a big time upgrade on the wing between Fox and Sabonis. The answer was not really, despite rumors of their interest in Kyle Kuzma as a free agent and OG Anunoby on the trade market. When Kuzma quickly re-signed on a $100 million deal in Washington and Toronto made it clear they weren’t interested in talks on Anunoby, the Kings proceeded to mostly get the band back together. Harrison Barnes is back after a terrific season for 3 years, $54 million. Trey Lyles likewise returns as their floor-spacing backup big at 2 years, $16 million. Alex Len also re-signed on the minimum to return as Sabonis’ backup.
The biggest addition was a signing from outside the NBA ranks, as they inked a 3-year, $20 million deal with EuroLeague MVP Sasha Vezenkov who has spent the last five years with Olympiacos and averaged over 17 points per game and hit nearly 38 percent of his threes last year in Greece. Vezenkov is not a name that will get most NBA fans excited, but it’s an interesting signing with some real upside for the Kings. The 27-year-old forward could give them some more scoring punch on the wing and is more depth for the postseason for Mike Brown to go to if some of his other wing shooters have gone cold as they did this past year. Their other signing was adding Nerlens Noel on a minimum, which I felt was a very solid use of a minimum spot as a lifelong homeowner on Noel Island. Whether Noel can stay healthy is obviously the biggest question, but he does provide them with a more athletic rim protector than anyone else on their roster and gives Brown some more flexibility with his rotation behind Sabonis against teams that might give Len some issues. Overall, free agency was not as exciting as it could’ve been for the Kings considering they had the type of cap space to make a big move, but it also was a very solid summer of signings — and they avoided overpaying someone on long-term money just to say they made a splashy move.
As mentioned above, I wasn’t a huge fan of the Holmes trade simply because the value of it was opening up more space to add a big player and that didn’t end up happening and I’m not one to cheer for tax savings or avoidance. Still, it was perfectly fine and they didn’t lose anything from the rotation. Their other trade not just swapping picks was to acquire Chris Duarte from the Pacers, as they looked to consolidate some of their wing depth as they made a big run at Bruce Brown, which was a solid move from Sacramento. I’m not super high on Duarte, but the Kings have shown that they are a very good place for shooting wings to flourish and coming off a rather dismal campaign last year in Indiana, Duarte could use a change of scenery that might bring back his shooting stroke. This wasn’t a trade that will impact the playoff rotation (barring something totally unforeseen), but adding regular season depth behind the likes of Kevin Huerter and Malik Monk isn’t a bad thing.
On the whole, this was a perfectly solid summer for the Kings. They brought back their key free agents and made some solid additions on the periphery. The only concern is that they didn’t make obvious upgrades to the roster — with the caveat that we don’t know exactly how useful Vezenkov will be as an NBA player — while a number of teams that finished below them in the West last year did. I don’t anticipate this team taking a step back next year, but it’s just a matter of whether incremental improvements is enough to keep them in the top half of the West playoff race next season or if they’ll find themselves as part of the fight to avoid the Play-In. It’s always harder to play with expectations, but after 20 years without them, Kings fans should still be thrilled to be going into a season where the conversation is whether this is a top-6 team or just a top-10 team in the West.